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Manu Sharma

I'm disappointed with this analysis and I hope John's view is not shared by the rest of the Automotive X PRIZE team. I hope my following response is given due thought.


John claims:
"if suddenly we could all plug-in our cars, many of us would be running them on coal [and therefore will put heavy strain on the grid]"

It's a scenario that's extremely unlikely to happen, so much so that it borders on absurd. Any new technology, no matter how efficient, will not be adopted by the entire population _suddenly_ overnight.

Assuming even remarkable success of Automotive X PRIZE, there will be a long cycle of adoption lasting at least a decade, if not several during which both contemporary and the new technologies coexist side by side.

Therefore, the effect on the Grid will not be substantial for a long time. To claim that an introduction of a successful EV will strain the grid is akin to claiming that fuel efficient hybrids today have stopped our reliance on oil.


John asks:
"Coal aside, where would all that electricity come from (at least, anytime soon)?"

Non-conventional sources of energy are not as far off as they are commonly assumed. In fact, there are solutions existing TODAY that can fulfill all household electricity requirements at a cost LOWER than the grid. The problem is nobody knows about them or believes it to be true.

Case in point - the Sunball solar appliance developed by an engineer in Australia (http://www.greenandgoldenergy.com.au/). What is it? A small roof mounted sun-tracking fresnel lens based concentrator device that uses highly efficient triple junction solar cells. These cells are up to 39% efficient (unlike normal PV that are 14-15% efficient) and are same as those used in Mars rover. Problem is they are prohibitively expensive. Sunball solves this problem by using them in very small quantity and concentrating hundreds of suns' worth of heat on that small area.

Wind energy is another underexploited area in US. It's not the dearth of solutions, but political will and awareness about these choices that is lacking. Japan already fulfills as much as 10% of its electricity requirement from solar power.


John says:
"I realize that most people would plug-in overnight, but not everyone"

That naturally depends upon how efficient the vehicle is. Give them an EV that goes 150-200 miles per charge and 99% will charge it overnight.


John says:
"Electric vehicles are clearly part of the solution, [...] Likewise other alternative fuels. We don't know which one is going to be "the best"

An electric vehicle charged using solar power is the IDEAL personal transportation solution in every way imaginable. It's a clean source of energy. It's abundant and free. It doesn't involve a manufacturing process. It doesn't divert resources from other important requirements (like food!). It also has zero emissions.

Flex fuels, on the other hand, have lots of pestering problems that may not have a solution in sight.

An Engineer

Manu,
I would argue that there are different types of flex-fuels. It should be obvious that converting FOOD->FUEL is no solution. I guess it is not. More precisely, it is not politically correct. So there goes your tax dollars ready to serve the interests of the already bloated ag-lobby.

A much more sensible approach is WASTE->FUEL. Think about this for a moment: No new resources need to be dedicated to its production, it is already happening. It is a great advantage to the environment as you reduce the mass of material going to landfills. Overall, it greatly increases system efficiency, as energy previously wasted is now recovered. Any way you look at it, it is win-win-win.

So how much energy can we produce from waste? A DOE/USDA report (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/pdfs/final_billionton_vision_report2.pdf) estimates that we could replace a third of our oil consumption with waste from agriculture and forestland. I suspect the number is on the optimistic side, but it is significant, nonetheless.

Now if only the waste-lobby was a powerful force in Washington...

Manu Sharma

The linked report envisages converting biomass (all plant and plant-derived materials such as logging residues in forests and agricultural crop residues) into a liquid fuel resource. Sounds good but if you read closely, their definition does include grains - corn and soybeans (p21) which are used for ethanol, biodiesel etc.

Ethanol and biodiesel cannot be a sustainable largescale fuel alternative for the simple reason that agricultural land on Earth is finite. In order to produce the crops in such large quantities would require either a) diverting resources from food or b) cutting down largescale forests in order to create new cultivable land mass.

(See, for example: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L23121854.htm )

Another reason the report cannot be taken at face value is that it does not address whether the liquid biomass fuel alternative it proposes is actually economically feasable (p18) or not. This is an extremely critical point because no fuel alternative regardless of how environmentally sound it is will be adopted by the general public if it is more expensive than gasoline.

Ken Fry

I agree with John: electric vehicles are part of the solution, but not the whole solution; unlike Manu, I am not disappointed at all with his assessment. I agree with Manu that solar power (and its cousin, wind) is very clearly the way to go… but eventually. And I’d love to think that right now, today, and in the next several years we could make an increasingly large dent in the use of petroleum (and thereby reduce many of the negative consequences of its use). However, if we are to make that large dent quickly, then we must offer people something they will buy in large quantities -- something which does not require them to pay large prices in aggressively amortized R&D costs, inconvenience, or adapting to unfamiliar tech.

To sell a lot of units quickly, we’ll need to rely on existing infrastructure, and sophisticated but existing tech. Today, that means gas, diesel, or electric. If people are not already sucking up VW diesels, which they can easily fuel at the corner store, imagine trying to get them to beg for used french-fry oil at the local McDonalds, or talking their landlord into installing acres of solar panels atop a high rise with a roof of only some square feet. We cannot realistically expect people to make huge leaps of faith, just because we enthusiasts would love to see it happen. We need to walk before we can run

Kevin O'Connor

Hi John and all,
A quick question, are you aware of any technologies that can project electricity, magnetic energy, or other forms of energy convertable to electricity over an open space without having direct contact (like a streetcar)? I heard that Tesla was experimenting with a similar technology back in his day. Thanks

John Acheson, MBA

Glad you are one of the few to caution against more electricity.

There are 2 problems that many so called greens tend to forget:

Making electricity is the #1 cause of global warming

Driving and making vehicles is the #2 cause of global warming

So an electric vehicle is basically the leading candidate for a Global Warming Cancer if you consider the global fleet of vehicles is approaching on a billion.

With 5 of 6 human beings never having had the chance to drive with some without electricity, how can electric cars meet the demand of first time #1 and #2 causes of global warming?

John Acheson, MBA

CORRECTION ON INFRASTRUCTURE!!!

You left out the cheapest, lightest and most abundant fuel on the planet that happens to be very compatible with electricity as well: air!

There is compressed air available at almost every gas station in the world: from FREE to about 50 cents per fillup!!!

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